“Clothes Often Speak Man” at Oregon Shakespeare Festival Costume Rental Shop – Here is Oregon

When Jason Kramer watches “Saturday Night Live”, he frequently sees someone wearing his clothes.

It is not a surprise. Chances are Kramer himself picked out the clothes, altered them if necessary, and rushed them to the FedEx drop-off site 1 mile away.

When wardrobe staffers from “Saturday Night Live” and other TV shows need costumes that reflect a particular time period, they regularly turn to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

Kramer, an assistant and costume designer, works out of the 71,000 square foot warehouse that is OSF Costume Rentals in Talent, Oregon, about five miles north of the festival’s main offices in Ashland.

“Saturday Night Live” staff members call for costume rentals at least once a month, Kramer said. It never gets old, he added. “It’s a delight every time, especially if a celebrity guest on ‘Saturday Night Live’ wears something we designed and built,” he said. “There’s just something a little more exciting about it.”

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Cast members of HBO’s sitcom “Barry” (starring SNL alum Bill Hader as a hitman-turned-actor) wore costumes from the Costume Shop when the show’s characters staged “Macbeth”. These same costumes will likely reappear the next time an Oregon high school or community college performs “Othello.”

OSF Costume Rentals serves a wide range of customers. Many (if not most) of them come looking for Shakespearian fashions. “These kinds of pieces tend to be produced more often, especially in an educational setting like middle school or high school, so we work with people with those kinds of costumes,” Kramer said.

However, he confessed, his own tastes go back around 200 years after the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. The era is the Regency era – things like Jane Austen,” he said.

Alice Risser, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s costume director, said Talent’s production facility stores all of the festival’s costumes, props and sets.

“As much as we can conserve, we keep and reuse,” Risser said. “We basically use it as a big giant closet. Any of these elements can be used in future productions.

Festival officials decided in 2004 to create OSF Costume Rentals and to offer, whenever possible, costumes to external theatre, television and film productions. “Since opening the costume rental business, we’ve added 52,000 pieces to our online inventory, so that’s a lot,” Kramer said.

After the close of each festival show, it’s (as Lady Macbeth would say) ‘take out the fucking place’ as the costumes are dry cleaned before being returned to the Talent Warehouse. Most clothing is items such as jeans and t-shirts. People rarely need help acquiring ordinary street clothes, Kramer said.

“However, things that are built specifically for shows — dresses, capes, dresses, etc. — are very valuable commodities to us,” he said. “We like to rent these things. We’ll figure out what can be rented when it all comes back here.

One of the deciding factors is whether a garment is in good enough condition to be sent out and used in a show.

“Because our season is so long, there are times when an item of clothing is destroyed at the end of a race,” Kramer said. “It could be made of a delicate fabric. In a musical, for example, the costumes are washed several times. There is a lot of wear and tear on these types of costumes. There are parts that just don’t fit, and there are parts that we gladly rent out on the website.

On average, he added, about 75% of the costumes seen on an Ashland stage end up in other productions. The rest is either stored, given away or discarded.

“Many of our pieces have been used multiple times in multiple productions over the years,” Kramer said. “One of the tracks on ‘Revenge Song’, for example, was from our production of ‘Beauty and the Beast’, which we took apart and reassembled.”

While most OSF Costume Rentals customers are other theater productions, some costumes are used for special events. When a New York hotel needed vintage bellhop costumes for a celebration, event planners turned to Oregon.

“We don’t technically rent costumes for parties, individuals, or cosplayers,” Kramer said. “That doesn’t mean we don’t want to. It just hasn’t been one of our avenues right now.

Available costumes are posted on osfcostumerentals.org. They are generally rented for six weeks. However, this may vary depending on the length of production. Prices also vary. Schools and community theaters receive reduced rates. “It depends on where you are and your organization,” Kramer said.

The store maintains detailed policies and guidelines for rentals. “One of them is that we definitely ask them not to modify them in any way, and they have them cleaned for us after they’re done using them,” Kramer said. “If there’s a hand-painted detail or anything like that, we make sure to let them know.”

Like any rental business, the store has fees for late, lost, or damaged items. However, Kramer said he also knows accidents happen.

“There are occasions during a theater tour where something can get damaged,” he said. “It’s not the fault of the interpreter or the client. It’s just that the garment has lived a long and fruitful life, and it was time for it to retire.

Still, the suits are pretty solid, Kramer said.

“The costume shop’s craftsmen and craftsmen build these pieces in a way that they’re durable and will last through the years,” he said. “It’s another pride. The costumes are not only beautiful. They are beautifully made. And they are made to last.

He added: “We still have pieces in our inventory from those first two years when the costume shop opened. There are things from at least 10, 15 years ago that we still rent or still use on stage.

Any high school drama teacher considering a production of “Hairspray” might consider calling OSF Costume Rentals. A few seasons ago, the Shakespeare Festival wrapped up a production of the musical in 1962.

“We have a ton of stuff from that period that can be used,” Kramer said. “Now that we created costumes for specific characters in ‘Hairspray’ from two seasons ago, we can actually facilitate costume rentals for ‘Hairspray’ productions, which is really great.”

Kramer added that he’s always willing to work with clients on costume choices. “I really like helping people, so this is the right place for me,” he said.

Risser said Kramer excels at finding options for customers. “We have a variety of sizes for different looks,” she said.

The shop also gives customers a bit of leeway. “There is a blast of time at the start of a rental period where customers can use items in a fitting and then return them,” Risser said.

Kramer was a theater kid in high school. Not Risser. “I did visual arts, a lot of sculpture,” she said. “I didn’t do theatre, but I did performance and dance.”

She came to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival because of her love of fabric and fiber arts. She stays, she says, because of the magic of the costume department. “It’s teamwork and the reliance of multiple people and multiple factors to put on a show and put clothes together for it,” Risser said.

Kramer said OSF Costume Rentals gives the Shakespeare Festival — and him personally — a chance to share the art of costume beyond the city limits of Ashland. “One of my favorite parts of working in the rental space is seeing how we can breathe new life into something that has had its day on our scene,” he said.

IF YOU ARE GOING TO: Operated by the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, OSF Costume Rentals is located at 408 Talent Ave., Talent; osfcostumerentals.org; 541-552-2826.

Gerald R. Schneider